“Build it and they will come”..I love that saying. It is the mantra of the out of town stadium designer, when trying to convince a club that selling their current character-filled stadium to a supermarket and moving to identikit soul-less arena on the edge of an industrial state is a good idea. But sometimes a change can be as good as a rest and everyone benefits.
London Broncos are at a watershed in their professional Super League lives. Last November it was announced that their “partnership” with Harlequins RFU was coming to an end and that they would revert back to the name they had carried since 1994. More worryingly was the indication that Harlequins would also want their tenants to vacate the Stoop in 2013. The Stoop in Twickenham was the Broncos sixth London based venue and they have struggled to light up the locals with a love for Rugby League. Last season you could almost guarantee a pair of tickets for each game via competitions in Metro and The Evening Standard.
This season, under their new old name they had again struggled to attract more than 3,000 for home games. With the Stoop needing to go through its end of Rugby Union season maintenance the Broncos announced they would take the game to new parts of the South East.
First up was a trip east to play at Leyton Orient’s Matchroom Stadium for the game versus Bradford Bulls where 2,844 fans came along – around about the average at the Stoop. Then they were going into the heart of Kent for the game versus Hull to be played at Gillingham FC’s Priestfield stadium.
This was not just a marketing exercise to woe the hearts and minds of the locals. This was also a “thank you” for the work done by the Medway Dragons in trying to spread the Rugby League word in the Garden of England. And of course any sports clubs trying to break virgin ground meant I had to be there. Continue reading
This was to be the day of all days. The plan was to take in three (THREE!) Rugby League games, fitted around a trip to Oakwell to watch Barnsley v West Ham. Originally on the agenda was the Humberside derby as Hull Kingston Rovers took on their bigger neighbours Hull RLFC at Craven Park. As the ground (recently chosen as one venues for next year’s Rugby League World Cup) was a new one on me I was well up for this. However, at some point between early February when the fixtures came out, and early April when I got round to trying to buy a ticket the game appeared to have been switched to the KC Stadium and my interest waned a little as I have been there a few times already.
Game two became game one and just forty five minutes after leaving the TBIR Northern HQ in Lincoln I was pulling up outside the Keepmoat Stadium in Doncaster at 3pm. In fact I appeared to be one of the only cars there, and if it wasn’t for the sight of the London Skolars coach I would assume it was wrong place at the wrong time.
Doncaster is a football town. However, the opening of the Keepmoat stadium five years ago has breathed life into the rugby league team and they are now proudly trying to work their way up the Rugby League ladder, playing this season in the National Championship 1. The club have had an emotional life, which has seen numerous name changes, grounds, owners and flirtations with mergers, bankruptcy and the odd promotion. But today it is about steady progress and playing at an excellent venue such as the Keepmoat certainly helps.
The Skolars history by comparison to Doncaster’s has been sedate to say the least. They were formed in 1995 as a club for graduating students who still wanted to play the game. They have made steady progress up the leagues, and whilst they will always live in the shadow of London’s other rugby league side, the Broncos, they continue to play the game in the right spirit. Continue reading